Haskell readies to serve all in Senate

State Sen.-elect Will Haskell acknowledged that while he received 53% of the vote in the November election to represent Connecticut’s 26th District, 47% of electors voted for his opponent.

“I want to be their state senator, too,” the Democrat said in an interview in Wilton last week. He recognized they are “intelligent, honest and compassionate members of this community.”

“I’m not going to Hartford alone. I may be driving alone but I’m bringing those voices with me. I’m bringing the perspectives that I’ve learned at the doors [I knocked on].”

Haskell discussed his hopes for the legislative session that convenes on Jan. 9. While much depends on what committees he is assigned to — which he won’t find out for a few more weeks — his priorities will come as no surprise to those who followed his campaign:

  • Making it easier to vote.

  • Making it harder to get a gun.

  • Making Connecticut more attractive to the next generation of workers through a student-loan forgiveness program.

“My interests are really diverse, there’s almost no committee that doesn’t interest me,” he said, but added, “I would love to serve on the higher education committee and propose a policy that says if you graduate from one of our great colleges or universities and you stay here for a period of five, maybe seven years, we’ll give you a break on your student loan.

“Connecticut has the highest student loan debt in the country per capita,” he said. “So, I’m really eager to address that crisis. Twenty-first-century eyes have to be applied to what should only be a 20th-century problem.”

He did not offer specifics but said other states have built loan forgiveness into the tax process and some programs are industry-specific.

Following that, he said, “in order to be attractive to the next generation of small businesses and entrepreneurs and large corporations, we need to provide companies with a talented, diverse, tech-savvy workforce. That’s what GE said was lacking in Connecticut and we need to respond to that need by enticing some of the 40,000 people who earn their degree here every year to stay in this state.”

“The economy is going to look different in the 21st century and it already does,” he said. “Connecticut has thrived on an economic model based on corporate office parks, quiet suburbs, and cities that aren’t so appealing. But now, workers want to live in cities.”

To that end, the state needs to start building cities that are attractive not just to the next generation of workers but also the next generation of businesses. If workers in their 20s find Connecticut cities attractive to live in, by their 30s, when they have a family, they may look to live in the suburbs.

At the same time, Connecticut needs to be a more affordable place to retire, he said. “We shouldn’t be taxing pensions, we shouldn’t be taxing Social Security. I will support a repeal of the estate tax.”

“Connecticut has to keep up with our neighbors and be economically competitive because that’s how we get out of this tricky fiscal situation,” Haskell said. “Yes, we have legacy obligations to deal with but ultimately we need to recognize — Democrats and Republicans — that this isn’t — at the moment — the most exciting state for businesses but we have an opportunity to turn that around and that turnaround I believe has already started.”

Bill sponsorship

In terms of gun violence protection, Haskell said he will be co-sponsoring safe storage laws as well as co-sponsoring a ban on ghost guns.

When knocking on doors during the campaign, he said, “I talked to parents who had a pit in their stomach every time their kid got on the school bus in the morning … I talked to so many students at Wilton High School and other schools across the district who didn’t feel safe in the classroom — that’s a big part of why I was so energized throughout the campaign.”

Another bill Haskell will propose is based on his experiences as an absentee voter. Instead of printing out, signing, and mailing in an absentee ballot request, he will propose placing an online portal on the secretary of the state’s website that allows a voter to request an absentee ballot electronically. That request will be sent to a local registrar who will mail out the paper ballot that must then be signed and mailed back in.

“There’s no reason you can’t request an absentee ballot on your iPhone in just two minutes,” Haskell said.

He believes he was elected by young people who were encouraged to turn out to vote when they saw someone with whom they could identify and who they felt understood their interests and needs.

“We need to make sure young people stay engaged because we’re all better served when every generation has a seat at the table,” he said.

The past month

Haskell has spent the last month meeting with boards of selectmen, finance and education to learn how he can best represent the seven communities that make up the 26th District. He’s met with many Republicans trying to find out where there’s common ground, where there’s nonpartisan agreement.

“In Wilton, I want to help mitigate traffic on Route 7,” he said. For New Canaan, he said he would sponsor legislation to help get a covering for the train station so commuters don’t have to wait in the rain.

When it comes to local needs, he said, “there’s really more that we agree on than we disagree.”

He has also driven across the state meeting his colleagues in the Senate to understand the communities they represent.

While some bring a lot of experience, he said, “I think I bring a fresh perspective, a fresh approach, some different ideas” but that’s only valuable when paired with people who know how to get things done.

Haskell, who now lives in Westport, said he plans at some point to attend law school, but is now “laser-focused” on his job in the Senate. He has also said, however, he has no plans to be a “lifetime legislator.”

In the meantime, he plans to attend as many events as he can in the towns he represents to connect with his constituents. He has also made his cell phone and email address available. He will have a website up in January where constituents may sign up to receive regular emails from him.

“Even if we don’t always agree, I want to hear from your perspective and learn from your experience and your point of view because that will make me a better state senator.”

To those who feel Haskell doesn’t have enough real world experience such as owning a home and paying taxes and sending kids to school he said, “these are issues my family, friends and neighbors face.”

“We don’t all need to own a home to recognize that mill rates are a point of concern for people in Wilton and Ridgefield and New Canaan.

“You don’t need two decades of legislative experience to know that people should feel safe in schools, to be able to sell their homes and shouldn’t sit on a train that’s gotten slower since the 1950s. Many of these issues really are quite clear.”